This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X
A Clockwork Western Puzzle Box
Desperados III joined Xbox Game Pass on January 20th, 2021. It was a game I had kept an eye on after a snazzy trailer highlighted how each interaction in the game could go a myriad of ways, and that it was your job to figure out the best solution. At first glance you might be mistaken to think this some sort of CRPG like Wasteland 3, or an X-com-like title such as Gears Tactics. No, what you get here is a Clockwork Western Puzzle Box. Desperados III is a game that reminds you every time 60 seconds have passed since you last hit the quick-save button. You are expected to fail dozens of times each level as you navigate your way through the patrolling guards that are between you and your destination. It’s a game that requires a mix of planning, timing-based combat, and attention to detail that while quite difficult is one of the more rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
How Do You Solve This Puzzle? MURDER
I must admit that I have not played Desperados I or II, but thanks to Game Pass I have been able to finally play this series I had heard such positive things about. There are 5 characters in total, though the 5th will not join your crew until just around the halfway point of the game. First up is John Cooper, resident knife throwing and gun-wielding cowboy. John loves using coins to distract his foes so that he can sneak by them or throw a knife straight into their neck. The game starts with a young John and his father on the trail hunting the bounty of a man named Frank. This younger version isn’t quite good enough with the knife-throwing to be a sociopathic murderer yet, but boy does he sure carry a lot of those coins around with him.
Desperados is best described as a puzzle game. Guards have cones of vision that you can see (one at a time for balance purposes), set paths and timers on when they move, and if you’re not in that cone they cannot see you. It’s a strict set of rules that makes every scenario feel fair, even if figuring them out takes you 10 or 50 tries. Re-loading a save is instant, which is key for a game like this (at least on the Series X, I do not have an Xbox One to test this out on). There is a large emphasis on hiding whether it is in bushes or hay piles, and then timing your moves to quickly take out your target and hide their body before anyone sees you.
The second character you get is named Doc McCoy (damnit Jim!). Doc specializes in uses a lethal syringe for his up-close killing, and a silenced sniper-scope fitted pistol for anything long range. Doc introduces the “lure” mechanic, as he can throw his bag into the line of sight of a guard. This will entice the lower-level guards to walk directly to the bag, open it, and get hit with a blast of gas stunning them for a few seconds. Combing this lure with Cooper’s coin toss mechanic can get a guard to follow the noise until they see the bag. This combination of your character’s abilities is the core of the game. There are a few occasions where a character is introduced, and you must play them solo but for the most part you always have anywhere from 2-5 characters at your disposal.
Rounding out the crew are Kate O’Hara, Hector Mendoza, and Isabelle Moreau. Kate is trying to save her family farm. As an attractive woman she is tasked with the typical trope of “distracting” men and luring them away from their post so that she or someone else can incapacitate them. She is also given a perfume bottle to throw to blind guards and she can find disguises in the level that allow her to travel almost anywhere without fear. At least they were kind enough to give her a tiny handgun as well so that she can get in on the mass-murdering a bit, though I don’t believe I ever used it as it was so much weaker than the other player’s weaponry. Hector is a trapper and friend of Cooper’s who loves to use “Bianca” his gigantic bear trap that instantly kills anyone unfortunate enough to get too close to it. He loves to whistle to lure people close to Bianca, and if there is a group of individuals his shotgun blast can take them out instantly and very loudly. Finally, Isabelle is a voodoo practitioner introduced halfway through and is a blast to play as. Her main mechanics are mind control and spirit-linking. The latter allows her to connect two enemies together so that whatever happens to one of them instantly befalls the other.
The 2nd half of the campaign where you get access to all five is where the gameplay truly shines. It was great up until that point, but once I had the entire crew the puzzles went from decently complex to truly mind-bending in what it took to get through each level. The difficulty curve is expertly handled by developer Mimimi Productions, and I never felt out of control of any situation. A major mechanic that becomes essential later is the showdown. This allows you to do one action for each of your characters with time standing still. You can set them up exactly how you want one at a time, then at the press of a button they’ll all automatically do what was assigned to them. I found myself routinely setting up one or more of my characters to do their task and I would directly control the last one. The timing required to take out multiple guards can be precise to the second, and there was a lot of trial and error to figure it out. Without the instant saving and loading I would have found the game unbearable to play.
A Beautiful Trip Through the Old West to Kill Some Awful People
The levels have a great variety as you travel across the United States. Things start out in Colorado as a train Cooper and Doc McCoy are on has been hijacked by some local bandits. McCoy as a gun for hire is working for the DeVitt company who ends up being one the main enemy factions throughout the campaign along with the Frank Gang. From there you’ll travel east to a few other locations I won’t spoil. Suffice it to say there are multiple biomes and situations that make each level feel fresh throughout the surprisingly long campaign. My playthrough took me just over 23 hours on normal difficulty, and with many challenges present I could see myself ending up with over 50 easily if I wanted to try and master each level.
Powered by the Unity engine and featuring a decently zoomed-back isometric camera the game isn’t stunning by any means but running at a high resolution and 60 frames per second helps carry a solid art style and decent animation work. There is a decent variety to the enemy types with your typical guards, ponchos, and long coats making up most of each level. Normal guards will fall for lures and are easy to knock out and kill. Elites, nicknamed Ponchos, have longer cones of vision and will ignore most lures, only falling for Kate’s charms which can divert their attention. Long Coats are the real bastards as they have only two ways to be fully incapacitated. One is for Hector to use his giant axe on their poor meat suits. The other is for them to be shot by one character and then knocked out by another. They also don’t give a damn about any lures or Kate’s abilities. They see through her disguises every time and will instantly notice her if she gets in their line of sight. Even Isabelle’s Voodoo powers are greatly reduced against them.
There are also animals such as cows, chickens (noisy buggers!), and watchdogs throughout the game. Various NPC’s can be littered throughout each level and if you do anything suspicious near them they will cry out and alert the guards. One of my favorite features of the game though is the end of mission screen that shows your entire path throughout the level. It traces every single move you made and can run in real-time or sped up. It’s fascinating to see the paths each NPC takes, the timing that was used to dispatch them, and the insane amount of times I would quick save.
A Decent If Predictable Tale
The writing and voice acting are fine. I found it neither bad nor great, and in a game like this that was enough for me. I was so focused on figuring out the puzzle of each area that I quite often forgot what the motivation of a level was until I had finished things and a cutscene began playing. These too are decent enough, and I never skipped one even if they could last quite a while. It ends up mostly being a tale of revenge, a classic for the Western genre, and I’m glad I saw it through to the end.
The music is excellent sounding like a high-quality Spaghetti Western knock-off. If you’ve ever watched Clint Eastwood in a Sergio Leone movie then you know what to expect. Sounds effects are solid as well with a good meaty crack for gunshots, and a sickening crunch whenever Bianca traps a fresh victim.
At full price I would say make sure you know exactly what this game is before buying it. It’s excellent, but this genre isn’t going to be for everyone. On Game Pass though this one is a no-brainer to give a try. The install size isn’t huge, but the amount of high-quality content contained within is. Desperados III is out for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4/5 and PC. It is on Game Pass for Console, PC, and Android through xCloud.